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I can't believe I'd never read this. I knew the basic gist of the plot, and most people I've spoken to did it at school. I'm rather glad I didn't, for I don't think I'd have enjoyed it nearly as much. I've been putting off reviewing it, because I honestly can't think of what to say. However, it's a book club choice, so I will eventually have to pick a single word to describe it -

which is -

- gripping

Not the first few chapters; it did take me a while to get into it, though I can see that the slow start is essential background-painting - but once the plot really kicked off I was very reluctant to put the book down. Unreliable narrators again: telling an adults' story through a child's eyes is a very effective trick if you can pull it off, and here it really works, trading off the different levels of cynicism. Favourite book of the year so far.
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Another one in the BookCrossing Favourites of 2011 ring, and I'm in two minds about it. Set largely in a mission hospital in Ethiopia, the story of conjoined twins raised in an adopted family following their mother's death and their father's disappearance, moving and aggravating by turns. On the one hand, I really didn't need to read fifty pages of birth trauma (not to mention various other gory chapters through the book); on the other, it has left me feeling generally more hopeful about the world and (as often seems to be the case with my reading these days) has demonstrated to me how little history I know outside my own bubble.

It has some interesting things to say about family, race, nation and class, and some horribly unexamined assumptions about gender (I'm not sure how much of this is the narrator and how much... isn't). The more I think about it, I am really quite angry at how the infliction of FGM was gendered female, and the healing of fistulas was gendered male.

On the whole I would recommend it, but (and this is a significant 'but') only if you can stomach the narrative of men knowing better than women what ought to be done with women's bodies, and certainly not if you have a birth trauma or surgery trigger.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/8497585/
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Loved the style, hated the politics. This, considering that I was rather afraid that I'd hate the first significant female author in modern English, is a better outcome than I'd expected. And really, one doesn't expect the seventeenth century to be hugely enlightened when it comes to race relations. (Nobody, including the black hero, batted an eyelid at the concept of slavery, for example.) Still, it wasn't exactly comfortable reading.

Aphra Behn tells a good yarn. I wasn't entirely sure how much she'd experienced and how much she was making up; her evocative descriptions and her colloquial style were very readable.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10388552/
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As usual, all the bookrings arrived at once, and I read them in a hurry. This one would have been a 'blitz-through-in-two-days' job anyway; it was compulsive reading.

It's a story of a mixed race girl - black American father, white Danish mother - moving away from a tragedy and finding her place in the world. Reading the notes in the back, it seems to have an autobiographical element. It is told from the viewpoint of various characters, and when I realised how these all joined up I was hooked.

Might suggest this one next time it's my turn to choose for bookclub. It rather depends on whether it's readily available in the UK, though - this is an American copy.

www.bookcrossing.com/journal/9675170/
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Loved this. All the things that Morrison does well - rich detail, fantastic evocation of time and place, horrors described in so matter-of-fact a way that one can't ignore them, and the importance, and joy and fraughtness, of friendship between women. Of shared but very different childhoods. The classic device of sending one girl away and leaving one at home - but it's rather more than that, because of what goes before, and because we never really learn about what Sula does at college and after, or about what Nel does at home in Medallion. A lot is left unsaid, a lot of what other authors might consider essential to the 'action', but one can take it as read.

I loved Sula herself, too - a free woman, escaping as far as is possible (which isn't very) from the expectations of her background, doing her own thing, and then coming back and doing her own thing again. I loved the way her entire existence is a rejection of the way women are expected to live (and I felt sorry for Nel, too, having to demonstrate the falsehood of that way of life). The resolution is perfect, and I only wish it could have come sooner.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/6512128
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These days I learn most of my history from novels, but perhaps that's not such a bad thing. At least novelists will admit that they made bits up, or left things out because they didn't fit. More to the point, one learns that there is something to learn about a time or place one hadn't really thought about. Such is the case with Lisa See, as much with Shanghai Girls as with Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, which I read last year.

See deals here with what seems to be a favourite theme: the changes of a relationship between two women. In fact, if one leaves time and place out of it, the plot is basically that of Snow Flower: love, hate, deception, loyalty, and one's inability to know oneself without the help of those one knows. However, time and place are vital, because the Shanghai girls are physically resident in the city of the title for only a few chapters; the rest of the novel is a story of escape, travel, immigration and integration in America, and it's this that makes it fascinating. I knew a little bit about the Chinese American experience in the mid twentieth century from reading the Wikipedia article on Anna May Wong; the rest was all new, and more than compensates for the duplicate plot.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/8129030
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This was very good. I think I need to read it again, because it felt a bit sidetracked towards the end, and I'm not sure whether it was me or the book. Probably me, leaving a week between the first three quarters and the last quarter. Interesting examination of caste, family life, culture clash, decline and fall. And I very much wanted to know what happened next. And after that.

It struck me very forcibly how good an artist one has to be in order to break the rules, as Arundhati Roy does. How well she evokes the children's perspective.

Very good book.
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These stories are very good, and I cannot put my finger on precisely why. Partly the realism, I think, and the vivid description, and the courage to put things as they are. (Having read the first story, 'A Party in the Square', I now know what was missing from 'The Help'.) Ellison combines a very specific time-place-and-people with universal human experience - a small boy is a small boy, and Ellison's Buster and Riley have an awful lot in common with, for example, William Brown. I wish I'd read this when I was studying the Civil Rights movement, because it would have made an awful lot of things a lot clearer.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/9950609
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Immigration in Britain in the late 40s. I chose this from a bookbox that was going around last year, despite misgivings that it might turn out to be one of those terribly twee wartime love stories à la Joan Jonker or Gilda O'Neill. Happily (for me), it was nothing of the sort.

1948. Queenie Bligh's husband has disappeared, and she is taking in lodgers. These include Gilbert Joseph and his wife Hortense, recently moved to London from Jamaica. Gilbert has previously been in England, having volunteered for the RAF during the war. Hortense has not.

Levy traces all four back-stories, exposing in the process four rounded characters, not always likeable, but very human.

A sensitive exploration of an under-explored theme, with a satisfyingly bittersweet ending.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/8097181

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